I’m not very good at talking. I should specify: I went to a college without tests, and so a student’s progress was based on, really, two things. The first was his or her ability to speak. The second was his or her ability to write. In lieu of grades, students were issued page-long narrative evaluations, detailing to minutiae an individual’s class attendance, time management, et cetera. You did not go unnoticed. My evaluations were often full of praise for my written work, with feedback that varied from how to tighten up my prose, to driving a point home a little faster. Comments for class discussion were always the same: “Pam, though mostly quiet…”, “Though Pam’s participation was infrequent…”, “I would have liked to hear more from Pam in our group discussions…”
So. Didn’t talk much.
You might say I literally squeaked by.
Meanwhile, it seemed that everyone around me could debate, entertain, lend a voice to the world’s great chorus. I know people who can sit down and tell a story. Tell as in talk. I had a friend who, on the spot, could spin a good yarn, and you remembered The Edelweiss Tea Story, The High School Grad Night Story, The Pink Prom Suit Story, and on and on. I had a friend who could, on the spot, stand up and give a lecture on the character development of Darth Vader, and you listened (even if you had only seen two installments of Star Wars).
I had stories, too. I just had to dig them out. I had opinions, I just had to put them into a fable.
Flannery O’Connor had something to say about this: “I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.”
Joan Didion, too: “I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see, and what it means.”
I have to split myself up. I have to become a girl, a boy, an old man, a dog, a German witch, a minister, a movie star, each character bringing home a piece of the puzzle.
I have to set the scene in a Connecticut girls’ finishing school, a seminary in the Texas hills, a theme park, a video rental, to ground the characters and color their take of the world.
It takes time for me to get it. It takes time to explain it to anyone who reads it. But it’s all a matter of looking close and then backing out to take in the big picture.